Johnny Winter – Step Back (2014)

Posted: September 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

johnny-winter-step-backWhen you think about the blues, you rarely conjure up an image of a skinny albino hippie from Texas covered with tattoos, but that’s exactly what you get with the legendary Johnny Winter.  While his visual doesn’t exactly fit the mold of great blues artists from the past, his 40-year/30 album career proves that his music does. Renowned by old-school blues greats and up and coming revivalists alike, Winter’s aggressive, unpolished approach to his craft became a signature that fans all over the world grew to love, admire, and respect.

When Winter died unexpectedly a few months back (at the age of 70), it left an gaping void in the international blues community. Step Back is his final studio album, and it follows his 2011 release Roots in paying tribute to his various blues influences. Like Roots, the album is filled with guest appearances from all over the blues world.  Eric Clapton, Ben Harper, Billy Gibbons, Joe Perry, Dr. John, Leslie West, Brian Setzer, and Joe Bonnamassa all lend a hand in recording some of the greatest, if not at least most well-known, blues songs of our time.

Produced by Winter’s guitarist, Paul Nelson, the album is full of gritty, soaring guitar, the kind of straightforward blues-rock style Winter has always been known for. What stands out more than anything is that it’s obvious over his last two albums that Winter still found joy and excitement in it all, and he went out playing perhaps as well as he ever had, having learned the nuances of these classic blues songs inside and out. Highlights here include versions of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Mojo Hand” (with Aerosmith’s Joe Perry), Bobby Bland’s “Don’t Want No Woman” (with Eric Clapton), Fats Domino’s “Blue Monday” (with Dr. John), and my personal favorite,  Gatemouth Brown’s “Okie Dokie Stomp” (with Brian Setzer). Even with such a star-studded who’s-who on board, it’s still Winter’s show. Johnny – for the most part – puts his guest musicians in their place by out-dueling and outshining them, but all in good fun.

There are a few issues with this record – the production wasn’t amazing, the playlist seems a bit vanilla at times, and nothing here is innovative or particularly startling – but it’s hard to be overly critical here due to Winter’s demise and the huge impact he had on the modern blues scene.

Dena Flows

Ben Harper, when asked about his participation on the album said, “The blues means everything to me, and Johnny Winter meant everything to the blues.”

“There is not one note, lick or riff I will ever play that doesn’t owe an unpayable debt to Johnny Winter. I play the way I play because I couldn’t play like Johnny Winter.

“While simultaneously breaking musical and cultural barriers, he was one of the ordained architects who went on to define the blues not only for generations, but for an entire genre. As an artist, he played and sang with a rare and unparalleled urgency and sincerity that requires musicians of all stature to listen and learn. As a producer, Johnny Winter was the gatekeeper whom Muddy Waters entrusted to further his own sound. That says it all.

“Johnny Winter was the gospel truth, one of the rare and hallowed musical pillars of the blues. Tonight I’m gonna play Johnny Winter real loud in my house, then try to cop a lick or two of his and once again wonder, ‘How on Earth did he play that!?’”

It’s comforting to know that Winter went out in peace with the blues and his legacy, and most importantly, without his skills diminishing. While Step Back doesn’t always match the tenacity set forth early in his career, it is a defining collection of friends and classic blues tracks that are as grand of a send-off as Winters could have hoped for.

Rest in peace, Johnny. The world is a little less cool without you.



August Rocks

Posted: July 27, 2014 in Uncategorized



webSmack dab in the middle of summer, and here we are – dripping with sweat, anxious for the kids to get back to school and actually looking forward to the cooler temperatures the next couple of months promise to deliver. In the midst of the summer heat, summer music is sizzling as well. Walk in to your record store this week and just take a look at the names that are being featured as the soundtrack to the summer. Among all the newcomers and one hit wonders, some pretty impressive names are owning the end-caps and chart positions (hell, even Weird Al Yankovic just scored his first number one album on the Billboard charts), proving that great musicians and great music will always be around – and may just be appreciated now more than ever.  Here’s a few you won’t want to miss.




Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Hypnotic Eye (July 29)

Outside of such icons as maybe Bob Seger and Bruce Springsteen, no one has a louder voice in Americana rock more than Tom Petty. With over 80 million records sold over the course of his career, Petty has established himself as one of music’s greatest names and truly defines the blues-induced midwestern rock he’s been known for since the late 70s. His latest album, Hypnotic Eye, sticks to the formula that brought him to the dance – with no frills, no tricks, and no excuses.

Right off the bat, the opener “American Dream Plan B” sets the tone for the disc. It immediately feels a little heavier than you might be expecting – but that’s not a bad thing. After countless albums and a long, historic career one wouldn’t blame Petty for maybe dialing-one-in and resting on his laurels, but instead it feels like he truly has something to say. Something with a little more message than in the past.

While I’ve never considered Petty to be political and opinionated in a lot of his lyrics, this album is filled with strong sentiment and messages – both straightforward and subliminal – throughout. Tracks like “Power Drunk” and “Shadow People” should – and will – rattle your social conscience while “Sins of My Youth” is an outpouring of introspection that you can’t help but parallel to your own existence – and that’s not the kind of stuff I’m used to dealing with on a Tom Petty album. Fortunately, though, the lyrical overload doesn’t take anything away from the loose, free-flowing music along the way. After all, it’s still a Heartbreakers record, and that pretty much guarantees a lot of toe-tapping and air-guitar strummimg.

In an era when electronic gadgetry and studio magic tricks are all the rage, it’s nice to have a no-nonsense rock record that feels genuine and grounded. It’s what Tom Petty has always been, and exactly what Hypnotic Eye is – which is exactly why you should cherish it.




Godsmack – 1000 HP (August 5th)

Sully Erna and Godsmack have been quite the enigma since breaking through on to the scene in the late 1990s. After firing off album after album of critically praised releases throughout the early 200s, the band seemed to run out of gas a bit, releasing only two studio albums (IV, The Oracle) since 2006. Rumors of the bands demise have swirled over the last few years, and after a completely lackluster performance as headliners of 2011’s Rock Jam (a performance that I admittedly walked out on), the question is now out there – would anyone care about a new Godsmack album in 2014, and would it kick ass or suck ass?

Godsmack returns with 1000 HP, and as much as I wanted to hate this album, I don’t. In fact, it feels like Erna and company have absolutely refilled the tanks and placed the proverbial pedal to the metal once again. The record is filled with the adrenaline rush and voodoo creep that made such tracks as “Keep Away” and “I Stand Alone” hard rock anthems. Even the band knew they needed to get back to the roots, as Erna quips “Time to rewind/back to 1995” in the album-opening title track.

More heaviness ensues with chest pounders like “FML”, Generation Day”, and “Locked and Loaded” – laying waste to any thoughts that the band had grown soft or simply quit caring about their music. These, along with most of the rest of the album, prove that Godsmack was merely playing the role of the snake in the grass, laying quietly for the perfect opportunity to strike.

While the venom aims for the kill, the album isn’t completely filled with balls-to-the-wall fury. “Nothing Comes Easy” is a slower paced, haunting affair that sounds more like gothic rock than heavy metal, and “Something Different” is exactly that – an experimental piece with key changes and cello solos that while not necessarily a “fit” amongst the rest of the rockers shows that the band is still invested in defining a sound all their own that defies most genre-labeling.

A mere four-year absence doesn’t necessarily qualify for a “comeback”, but if you’ve been waiting as long as I have for Godsmack to start being Godsmack again, what seemed like an eternity is finally over, as 1000 HP is the album you (and I) have been waiting for.




Ted Nugent – Shut Up and Jam! (July 15)

Chances are, the most recent thing you’ve heard from Uncle Ted hasn’t had anything to do with music.  The “Motor City Madman” has spent much of his public appearances the last few years bashing the Obama administration, calling out the LGBT movement, chastising Native Americans – and pretty much alienating everyone possible with his pro-gun/pro-conservative opinions every chance possible. This year, petitions and protesters have made his concert appearances more of a circus than the music ever did, but you can’t really blame the guy.

Nugent’s no-holds-barred approach is all he knows. Even from the early stages of his career with the Amboy Dukes, Ted’s reckless and relentless style and personality is what allowed him to carve his name in to the music industry – whether you liked it or not. Amidst all the chatter and controversy, though, it appears that Ted Nugent just may be extending the olive branch a bit with his latest effort, Shut Up and Jam!  I’m not sure if the album title is a message to his detractors, or a tongue-in-cheek reminder to himself to let the music do the talking – either way, the record is a great bi-partisan reminder of what rock and roll records should sound like.

The 12-song assault on your speakers is bonafide Nugent. Ripping guitars, wailing vocals, and proof positive that the Nuge is still one of the best in the business in delivering great rock and roll.  The riotous title track, as well as the blues-heavy “Everything Matters” rank right up there with some of Ted’s best songs, while Sammy Hagar drops in for “She’s Gone”, another great jam. Innocent rockers like “I Love My BBQ” and “I Still Believe” carry an almost-cheesy “can’t-we-all-get-along” attitude, but actually shows that Nugent is tired of being the spokesman-cum-crazy, and just wants to get back to doing what he does best – delivering repeated kicks in the ass of good old rock and roll.

Proof that sometimes the best advice comes from within.


A Legendary Summer of Music

Posted: June 28, 2014 in Music

july While 2014 has already been a stellar year in music with great releases from new artists all over the scene, I found the last few weeks to be saturated with new offerings from some of the most legendary artists of our lives. No better time than the present to re-introduce to you a few recognizable names – all still rocking and rolling decades later. So without further adieu, let’s get down to business…


Peter Murphy – Lion (June 3rd)

Legendary Bauhaus frontman Peter Murphy looks to his tenth solo album with the type of experimental fervor typically reserved for artists half his age and that’s a good thing. Written and recorded in record time (rumors are Murphy did the album in just over a week), Lion shirks its regal title with semi-improvised pieces that are fast, loose and moody. While usually dancing on the softer edge of the night, Murphy pulls an (almost) about face, putting together 11 tracks that are heavier and faster-paced than just about anything he’s done over his storied career.

Murphy has readily stated that he’s no longer letting outside influences in, stating that rarely does he follow the “gothic” genre he helped create. And this album proves it. The vocals are still haunting at times, but the moody, dread-filled vibe is mostly absent. If anything, the album feels more like a rebirth than a rehashing of the Bauhaus days – and has a strangely enjoyable uplifting vibe.

Even though the album was put together quickly, Lion’s layout is a very deliberate one and should be listened to start-to-finish, as some songs don’t necessarily translate as well when not sandwiched between their counterparts. But if you are only going to listen to a few tracks and then move on, I suggest the heavy opener “Hang Up”,  the electro-clash painted “Low Tar Stars”, and the pop-influenced “Eliza.” The entire album, despite a couple of missteps along the way, shows that the 2014 version of Peter Murphy is as good as ever, and continues his legacy as one of alternative music’s most important voices.



Phish – Fuego (June 24th)

When it comes to Phish, most people either love them or hate them. I am one of the miniscule few that can take them or leave them. Sure, they are probably THE best jam-band out there these days, but it’s hard for me to to get caught up in 15 minute free-flowing guitar and bass solos. Maybe I need to start smoking pot or tie my bandana a little tighter – as I’m finally starting to feel it a little with the band’s new album Fuego.

For a band that made its name being able to interact and change on the fly during their live performances, I’ve never felt that same level of cohesion on their studio albums – until now. This time around, it feels like the band bottled up the stage energy an passed it around the recording studio until everyone was drunk. It’s high-spirited, it rocks, and it actually sounds like the band had a blast recording it.

The title track opener spins from one style to another, capturing the vibe they have on their best moments on stage. “Sing Monica” and “Devotion to a Dream” are as catchy as they come, and swirl along playfully. “Wintergreen” evokes the memories of some of Phish’s quirkiest lyrics over the years, and “555” does a great Red Hot Chili Peppers impersonation. In fact, I see a lot of the songs off this record making their way into the live set, which will only add an unnoticeable 30 minutes or so to the show. If you’ve experienced Phish live, you know what I’m talking about.

So call me a convert, or a new-found Phish-head or whatever… This album needs a place in your CD collection, no matter what kind of music you listen to, and builds on a career that shows no signs of letting up anytime soon.



Yes – Heaven and Earth (July 22)

Progressive rock fans pretty much wet themselves anytime there is rumor of a new Yes album, and the time to change the sheets is on the horizon. Heaven and Earth features only 8 new tracks from the band, and features new vocalist Jon Davison, but is a Yes album through and through. For starters, Davison sounds so much like former vocalist Jon Anderson that you almost forget that their is a “new” singer. Secondly, the core group of Chris Squire, Alan White, and Steve Howe continue their legacy of being the most prolific writing team in rock music. Sure, they don’t take (as many) hallucinogenics these days, and the lyrical content has gone from whimsical to more refined concepts – but Yes has, over their career, pretty much written the book of prog rock.

The latest chapter takes a more pop-sensible approach. Instead of the winding progressive structures, the band take a more radio-friendly road throughout Heaven and Earth. There is still everything here you would expect from a Yes record – from Howe’s driving guitar solos to Squire’s perfect harmonies – but let’s be honest. Time is running out.

Considering most of the band is on the bad side of 60 years old, the end of Yes is fast approaching. Thankfully, the band has decided to burn off the fumes in the starship by putting it into overdrive, heading at breakneck speed to the black hole. Heaven and Hell might sound a little like 90125 and Big Generator, but that’s not a bad thing. The tracks flow effortlessly from one to the next, showcasing each member in their own personal spotlights along the way.

“Believe Again” focuses the attention to Geoff Downes keyboard mastery, while “To Ascend” and “In A World Of Our Own” show what perfect writing and harmonies can be. “Light of the Ages” proves Howe as still one of the best guitarists out there, and “Step Beyond” offers as memorable of a bass and drum track as Yes has ever recorded,

The culmination lies in the albums final track, “Subway Walls”. For all the criticism the album might get for being too “light” by its detractors, this track is old-school Yes both in performance and content.  Filled with tempo shifts and complicated structure, it was a great finish to what – for me – was a great album. Heaven and Hell might not please every Yes fan out there, but there is plenty of satisfaction to be found here for fans new and old alike.


Bad Words (2014)

Posted: June 28, 2014 in Movies

bad-words-blu-ray-cover-73Jason Bateman has been on a roll over the last five years. From Juno to Extract to the more recent The Change-Up and Horrible Bosses, Bateman has morphed from one of Hollywood’s smiling pretty boys to one of the darker, stranger comedic actors of the day. That trend continues in Bad Words, which also marks Bateman’s motion picture directorial debut.

The story is set around Bateman’s character Guy Trilby, a 40-year-old ball of anger who manipulates a loophole to enter a the national Golden Quill spelling bee. Trilby has an axe to grind, so he enters – and dominates – a regional spelling bee in Columbus, Ohio. Regulators – played by Allison Janney and Philip Baker Hall – try to prevent Trilby from competing at the national level. But seeing as how he never graduated from eighth grade, he technically qualifies for the competition… and he’s hellbent on winning.

Bateman soft plays the role as a vile, crass competitor – and that’s a huge plus in the movie. Even though the dialogue is filled with four-letter words and insanely rude commentary, Bateman goes less for the shock value and more for the laughs with perfect timing and delivery – making his character believable and honest. The film carries much of the same “feel” as Billy Bob Thorton’s Bad Santa (which is easily one of this author’s favorite flicks), and has the same asshole/kid connection. Rohan Chand plays bee competitor Chaitanya Chopra, and provides the brightest ray of sunshine opposite Bateman’s dark cloud of gloom. The duo’s journey to redemption by way of conventional life lessons may be a little predictable, but their love/hate big-brother interchanges end up being the highlights of Bateman’s simple, silly story.  In fact, you almost end up rooting for the poor schmuck, despite his imperfections and failures as a human being.


So why, exactly, does a 40-year-old compete in a child’s competition? That’s the one underlying mystery to it all, which reveals itself in almost heart-warming fashion in the end – but I’ll save the details as to not ruin it for you. You won’t get too caught up in that aspect of the film, anyway – as you’ll be too busy laughing yourself silly to even think about it.

As with Bad Santa, the film looks – on the surface – like a film for both adults and children, but such is not the case. Unless you want your sons and daughters to learn words they shouldn’t “say” let alone “spell”, save Bad Words for an after-hour viewing – long after the wee ones are tucked away for the night.  But do check it out, as it is easily Bateman’s best performance of his career, and shows that he is ready for the big time from a directorial standpoint as well.

8.5/10 – Rated R for Language and Brief Nudity

On DVD and BluRay July 8th.


4 Ahhh, summertime.  The sunny days, the mild, cricket-filled nights, the constant smell of barbecues and campfires.  No one likes the year’s best season more than me. Kicking on the flip-flops and kicking back a few cold ones in June is as traditional as decorating a fake tree in December for a mythical elf and a mythical holy man.

As a music writer, one of my favorite things about summer is the avalanche of new music. The summer festivals are in full swing, offering up chance after chance to see great acts (and usually tons of them together). Most of these acts time album releases around this time as well, ensuring the fans a new song or two to keep interest peaked, and revenue pouring in.

Here are a few early summer releases to wrap your ears around, with plenty more to come…


Powerman 5000 – Builders of the Future (May 27th)

Throughout the years (and throughout constant lineup changes) Rob Zombie’s little brother Spider 1 has continued to experiment with all kinds of different approaches to his music. It appears the web is finally complete with the release of Builders of the Future. The band combines elements from hard rock, club-based electro, and punk into ten songs of guilty pleasure. From the raucous opener “Invade, Destroy, Repeat” to the slowed down “I Want to Kill You”, Spider 1 has finally found the perfect elixer of sound. There isn’t a track to miss on this album as every guitar riff, synth blast, and drum fill will either have you banging your head, shaking your ass, or pounding your fist – and what’s more fun than any of that? 7/10


body count

Body Count – Manslaughter (June 10)

Way back in 1991, legendary West Coast rapper/gangster Ice-T  surprised crowds at Lollapalooza by finishing his hip-hop sets with a few down and dirty heavy metal songs with his band he dubbed “Body Count”. Fans and critics alike loved it, as well as the album the group released the following year. Recent history involving Ice-T, though,  has had more to do with television shows and the size of his wife’s breasts – so what better time than now to get back to being the bad-ass of yesteryear than by “getting the band back together”? Manslaughter is a kick-in-the-face reminder that Ice-T will always be one hard son-of-a-bitch, whether he’s doing rap or hardcore metal. Need an updated version of Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized” or a hood-smart version of Jay-Z’s “99 Problems”? – Body Count has you covered. Throw in a bucket full of messages from the street, a f*ck-all attitude and an in-your-face musical approach, and you’ll soon realize that Ice-T is still one of the greatest and most-feared musical forces of our time. 8/10



Echo and the Bunnymen – Meteorites (June 3)

Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant. They may not quite have the iconic status of other songwriting partnerships like Lennon & McCartney and Jagger & Richards, but since 1980 they’ve created a pretty sparkling legacy. If you wasted the 80’s listening to Madonna or Bon Jovi, Echo and the Bunnymen may have completely passed you by – but don’t feel bad. The band has endured as much dysfunction and tragedy as it has success, leading to a quite ride into obscurity the last decade or so. With McCullogh and Sargeant the last core members remaining, I wondered if there was even a need for a new Echo and the Bunnymen album when I heard rumors of it a few months back. Fortunately, the answer appears to be yes.

The duo have obviously not forgotten how to write great songs, as Meteorites takes the listener on a voyage of unusually personal lyrics and grand musical styles, ranging from the dark and haunting to the upbeat and poppy side of things. “Holy Moses”, “Explosions” and“Lovers On The Run” are in the classic Bunnymen mould with big choruses and Sergeant’s shimmering guitar riffs to the fore, while “Grapes On The Vine” and “New Horizons” showcase soft melodies and an almost epic approach. All in all, Meteorites is a decent, if hardly vital, album from one of Britain’s true national treasures. While we might not have exactly “needed” a new Echo & The Bunnymen album. it’s nice to have one anyway. 8/10

Casualties of Cool – Casualties of Cool (May 13)
I would be a fool not to mention this album, even though it came out weeks ago. Casualties of Cool is a alternative/country/rock/jazz album put together by Devin Townsend and Ché Aimee Dorval. I’ve oozed my love for the great Devin Townsend all over these pages in the past, and this time is no different. Where Casualties of Cool is different is that the vocals are mostly handled by Dorval, leaving Townsend to concentrate on the beautiful arrangements and smoothed-out style throughout. In describing the album, Devin stated “It sounds like haunted Johnny Cash songs. Late night music, completely isolated sounding and different than anything I’ve done. Che sings most of the leads, and it’s probably the truest reflection of who I am in life at this point.”
Standout tracks include the bluegrass-fueled “Mountaintop”, the upbeat “Ether”, and the new-age “The Bridge”, but the album – being a conceptual piece – is best listened to in its entirety. Ive always asked you to trust me when it comes to the vision and perfection of anything Devin Townsend gets his hands on, and Casualties of Cool is no exception. 9/10
Check back soon for in-depth reviews of: Killwhitneydead – Suffer My Wrath  //  Night Ranger – High Road  //  The Phenomenauts – Escape Velocity  //  Killer Be Killed – S/T  //  Peter Murphy – Lion  //  Jack White – Lazaretto  //  Mastodon – Once More Round The Sun


The LEGO Movie (2014)

Posted: May 31, 2014 in Movies

LEGO-coverAfter massive success in the video game market with titles like LEGO Batman, LEGO Harry Potter and others, it was little surprise that the folks at LEGO opted to make a full-lenth feature film. Even though they “borrowed” the formula from almost EVERY animated movie these days, “The LEGO Movie” uses a unique blend of animated plastic blocks and characters to build worlds of endless imagination with A-list voice talent that makes for a heck of a movie. Writer/director duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) continue their momentum, smartly using the creative possibilities of LEGOs as innovation for their characters and story.

We’re introduced to a world where a society of LEGO figures work by-the-book and follow the manuals, building and re-building their world over and over again, and always according to the instructions as ordered by Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell). Within this world we meet Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) a construction worker that lives by the rules and has never thought of doing otherwise until he finds a strange object referred to as the “Piece of Resistance” that will save the entire world from an evil tyrant, hellbent on drenching the LEGO world in Krazy Glue, locking everything in positions of perfection forever.

Emmet’s world is turned upside down when he meets Wyldstyle (voiced by Elizabeth Banks), a headstrong character representing everything Emmet is not, as she rescues him from the hands of Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) after Emmet stumbled upon the “Piece of Resistance”, a discovery that results in him being dubbed “The Special” – the one that will save them all.

On the surface, the story is rather straightforward, but it’s the way in which Lord and Miller have used the idea of making a LEGO movie to tell their story that makes it work so well. They embraced the physics of a world made of clunky plastic, interlocking pieces to create explosions and even bubbles in the shower. More importantly, they’ve taken the idea that with the right pieces and a little imagination, anything can be created – and the movie uses this idea to give us additional insight into the characters. Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) likes everything black and in dark shades of grey, Unikitty (voiced by Alison Brie) likes things with sparkles and old-school LEGO astronaut Benny (voiced by Charlie Day) likes old-school LEGO spaceships.

Additional members of the voice cast include Morgan Freeman as the ever-so-wise Vitruvius, Billy Dee Williams revamps his old Star Wars character Lando Calrissian and Lord and Miller coaxed their 21 Jump Street stars Jonah Hill andChanning Tatum into voicing Green Lantern and Superman, the former having a hilarious, massive fanboy crush on the latter.


The animation is outstanding, all the way down to tiny scratches on Emmett’s plastic skin and while the movie holds its own, you won’t be able to get the song “Everything is AWESOME!!!” out of your head. Composer Mark Mothersbaugh (DEVO) teamed with Tegan and Sara and The Lonely Island to create such positive lyrics such as “I feel more awesome than an awesome possum” and “stepped in mud got new brown shoes” and almost accidentally writing the catchiest pop/dance song in years.

As a whole, The LEGO Movie embraces fun, adventure and stop-animation in its truest form. As one who spent hours on end as a kid making worlds of my imagination, I would think it must have been a blast to come up with every silly little idea and eventually bring it to life in the form of tiny children’s building blocks. Adults will most certainly enjoy the film, but it’s going to be children that will eat this up, inevitably leading to many, many sequels down the road.

The DVD and BluRay release is set for June 17th, so if you have little ones, or simply just remember being one, I would definitely suggest “blocking” out some time and taking this in.


Rated PG. Warner Brothers Studios


Magic MountainIt’s been a fast and furious 8 years for Kentucky rockers Black Stone Cherry, What started as simply teenage jam sessions between singer Chris Robertson and John Fred Young (son of The Kentucky Headhunter’s guitarist Richard Young), and quickly included classmates Ben Wells and Jon Lawhon, turned in to one of the greatest success stories of the twenty-first century.

And the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Southern rock had remained a constant on rock radio thanks to staples as ZZ Topp and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and saw a bit of a rejuvenation on the 2000s thanks to acts such as Nickelback and Alter Bridge – but if the torch was going to be passed, it needed to belong to a band that was whiskey-soaked and deef-fried southern, and that’s exactly what Black Stone Cherry is.

In fact, it is this author’s opinion that the band has, through it’s three previous album releases, set the standard for the “new” southern rock sound and style: a style that pays deep homage to the predecessors, but quietly and almost inconspicuously takes the genre to new heights.

There isn’t a whole lot of anything new going on with the band with their latest release Magic Mountain (May 6th), but the band continues to move forward with their music, guns ablaze and rattlesnakes hissing. If there is anything different here, it is the fact that there is a little more “heaviness” to the album – and while not to be considered a heavy metal album, there is definitely enough here to get the attention of rock and metal fans alike. Part of that may be due to the band recently signing with Roadrunner Records, one of the most well-known metal labels in the history of music. When you walk the halls of a place that has released records from artists such as Biohazard, Type O Negative, King Diamond and Megadeth, I would expect a little bit of that to seep in to your blood, regardless of what style you play.

Whatever the case, Magic Mountain is thirteen songs of pretty much exactly what you wanted to listen to from a band that sounds great both driving down the road or lighting up the BBQ. There are messages, if you care to find them, but this album is best played one way and one way only – loud.

Some of the standout tracks for me were the opener “Holding On and Letting Go”, which opens with fuzzy muted guitar riffs, then cleans itself up nicely along the way. Halfway through, however, the band totally shifts gears into a tasty, nasty Black Sabbath-y riff of metal greatness before finishing up with their trademark choruses and soaring guitars.


Already known as a bit of a “party band”, Black Stone Cherry make no secret about their favorite pastime – smoking pot. Two tracks, “Peace Pipe” and “Me and Mary Jane” are bound to be hesher anthems in the very near future, and while I’m not one for the “kind”, these tracks almost make a guy reconsider his recreational time.

The band has made a grand career of the “southern power ballad”, and you get a few along the way here. “Runaway”, “Sometimes” and “Remember Me” flirt a little to close to Creed territory for me, but they do give the record some depth of styles and the opportunity to catch ones breath along the way.

The title track “Magic Mountain” is a great arena rocker, “Never Surrender” features breakneck guitar riffs (as well as Robertson trying on a few metal screams for size), and “Blow My Mind” offers up some of the deepest blues vibes the band has ever recorded. The different styles from track to track really kept me listening, wondering what influence would pop its head out next, and when done right, makes an album great.

If there’s a misstep here, it is with the song that will probably be the most popular on the album. “Dance Girl” takes the listener on a guitar-and-bass-heavy ride through the world of strip clubs – but unfortunately, it’s almost exactly like “Let Me See You Shake” off their last record, which wasn’t a great track either. I guess if I’m hitting the strip club, I’d much rather hear Black Stone Cherry than, say, George Michael, so maybe they knew what they were doing all along.

All in all, though, Black Stone Cherry are perfecting the art of showing up, rocking your ass off, and leaving you to party – and that’s always been what southern rock has been to me. While Magic Mountain may not be their best record (which for me was their first) the band at least realizes that fans want a lot more of the same, and that’s exactly what they deliver.

This record is destined for commercial success, huge radio play, and will take them to even greater heights. Normally, that would bother me and turn me off of an album, but in this instance, I think it may be its greatest strength. Rock and mainstream radio needs a kick in the balls, and Black Stone Cherry have definitely strapped on their boots.